Initially cheeky and melodramatic, introducing the Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil characters ― here known as Fan (Dong-gun Jang) and Mo (Cecilia Cheung), respectively ― in the midst of games of seduction and power, with Fan walking away from a callous sexual tryst and Mo publically speaking about her success as an entrepreneur. Framed and costumed gorgeously, Mo carefully hides her anger over being dumped by a known tycoon for 16-year-old virgin BeiBei (Candy Wang), which leads her to concoct a scheme with the similarly morally abject Fan to bed, ditch and humiliate her.
The twist is that Fan wants to counter this bet with an attempt to similarly bed, deflate and destroy the charitable widow and socially progressive Fengyu (Zhang Ziyi) in exchange for a night with Mo. And, as we know, this isn't about sexual desires so much as it's about power, since Mo's disposition is one of calculated integrity, defending a wounded ego, much as Fan's motivation is about dominating and controlling the women and world around him, thus proving himself superior.
With a crisp, golden palette that's eventually washed away when tragedy strikes, the trajectory, both visually and thematically, is that of image perfection; every moment is a thing of beauty, with a hint of artificiality. As the emotions heighten and Fan starts to develop feelings for Fengyu (much to Mo's chagrin), the aesthetic becomes more grounded and the emotions sincerer.
In its own terms, Dangerous Liaisons is a successful take on class system divisions and the nature of maintaining the image of success as an inherently callous mode of performance. It's just that the familiarity of the material within a modern cultural lexicon leads to the inevitable, albeit odious, world of comparison, where the more epigrammatic and sharply cruel Stephen Frears adaptation lingers in the memory.
The characters here aren't as harsh, nor are they as disturbingly unforgiving. Where Malkovich seduced with callous indifference of the outcome, Jang's disposition is more flirtatious and regretful, much like Cheung is more if a self-consciously damaged, but concealed human than the vindictive, deeply wounded Close. In such, the tragedy and emotion, though valid, come off as somewhat banal.
More intriguing is the placement of the story within '30s Shanghai, noting that opulent lives and broad class system distinctions in the face of surrounding tragedy often lead to territorial wars of entitlement and appropriation.
And if history repeated itself in France and China, what's to stop it from happening again, if not already? (Well Go)
ReviewsMar 20, 2015
If you didn't know it already, or hadn't figured out after hearing his "joke" at this year's Academy Awards, Sean Penn is kind of a dick. Bu...
ReviewsMar 19, 2015
Watership DownMartin Rosen
Though Martin Rosen's adaptation of Richard Adams' famed novel Watership Down encompasses an abundance of themes and concepts including fata...
ReviewsMar 19, 2015
Drake's Homecoming: The Lost FootageEvan Kosiner
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Drake's career knows that no, Aubrey Graham did not actually start from the bottom. By all accounts ...
ReviewsMar 17, 2015
Maude: The Complete Series
Although Bea Arthur will always be associated with The Golden Girls, her real star turn came back in the '70s when she was the title charact...